Threat Assessment

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Researchers collaborate across disciplines at RAND to evaluate terrorist, military, nuclear, cyber, and other threats to U.S. national security — identifying emerging threats, scrutinizing known risks, and evaluating potential strategic and tactical responses. Recent studies have included examinations of al Qaeda, the Afghan insurgency, and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint news conference in Seoul, April 2014, photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    Commentary

    N.K. WMDs Carry Catastrophic Potential

    Nov 19, 2014

    The failure of the United States and South Korea to prevent North Korea from gaining significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction saddles those governments with serious military responsibilities, should North Korea go to war or should its government collapse.

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September, photo from Reuters/FBI handout

    Report

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    Nov 18, 2014

    Although the numbers of Westerners slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq are murky, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security.

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  • French President Francois Hollande and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian review troops at the fort of Vincennes, France, July 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Emergencies: France, Mali, and Turkey Are Playing with Fire

    The leaders of France, Mali, and Turkey have declared formal states of emergency. France's Hollande and Mali's Keïta, while responding to real threats, are risking democracy. Erdogan appears to be targeting democracy and using Turkey's recent failed coup as a pretext.

    Aug 15, 2016

  • U.S. Marines with their Georgian counterparts preparing for NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, March 24, 2015

    Commentary

    How Defense Choices Affect Military Readiness

    Because the United States cannot afford to prioritize and defend against every possible threat or contingency, it must accept risk with each decision it makes. And the more adaptive the adversary, the more likely it will confound readiness investments made previously to confront it.

    Aug 10, 2016

  • Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing, China, April 30, 2016

    Commentary

    Do Economic Ties Limit the Prospect of Conflict?

    China has grown stronger economically and militarily over the past 35 years and has become more assertive. Its trade and investment links with Japan are substantial but they have been declining, and are less of a constraint on conflict than before.

    Aug 9, 2016

  • A diplomatic delegation waits for China's President Xi Jinping to arrive at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, March 30, 2016, to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington

    Q&A

    Q&A: An Unthinkable War Between the U.S. and China

    David Gompert, lead author of a RAND report that explores an unthinkable U.S.-China war answers questions about what the study does — and does not — say about the potential for such a war and its possible outcome.

    Aug 4, 2016

  • News Release

    Exploring the Course and Consequences of a Sino-U.S. War

    Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored. A new analysis illuminates various paths a war could take and their possible effects.

    Jul 28, 2016

  • U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens as Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi speaks during a meeting in Beijing, China, July 25, 2016

    Report

    Exploring the Course and Consequences of a Sino-U.S. War

    Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored. A new analysis illuminates various paths a war could take and their possible effects.

    Jul 28, 2016

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at United Nations headquarters in New York, April 27, 2015

    Commentary

    The End of Nuclear Proliferation?

    As the last case of nuclear proliferation fades further into history, it may become politically difficult to allocate resources to preventing it as other pressing threats, such as bio- and cyber-terrorism, continue to emerge. The time to act to keep nuclear proliferation a thing of the past is now.

    Jul 26, 2016

  • Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe's Charlie Company show Ukrainian Marines and National Guard soldiers the proper procedures for clearing a room, September 16, 2014

    Commentary

    It's Getting Harder to Define Military Readiness. Here's What to Do About It.

    Focusing on one type of threat or the other — whether state or non-state in its general nature — is becoming a less tenable option as the United States considers how to assess and improve its military readiness.

    Jul 12, 2016

  • NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration is seen launching to space in this undated artist's rendering released August 2, 2014

    Report

    Developing a Risk Assessment Methodology for NASA

    A decision support methodology integrates risk factors and risk management approaches tailored to NASA's management, operations, and acquisition structures. Designed for non-experts, any decisionmaker with any level of training can use it to compare risks within a common lens.

    Jun 29, 2016

  • Lithuanian Land Forces fire a smoke screen from an M113A1 Armored Personnel Carrier during a joint exercise with their American partners in Rukla, Lithuania, May 22, 2015

    Commentary

    In Defense of a Wargame: Bolstering Deterrence on NATO's Eastern Flank

    A series of wargames examined the potential results of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states. While such an invasion appears unlikely, its consequences would be so dangerous that not taking steps to deter it more robustly would be imprudent.

    Jun 14, 2016

  • Brazilian Army soldiers take part in a simulation of decontamination of multiple victims during a training against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, March 11, 2016

    Commentary

    ISIS and Dirty Bombs

    There has been growing concern that terrorists might use radiological sources to create a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD). Calculations have shown that an attack would be unlikely to produce radioactive contamination sufficient to kill or even injure anyone, but there would be psychological and economic effects.

    Jun 3, 2016

  • Danish police search an apartment block in Ishoej, Denmark, for people suspected of having been recruited by the Islamic State, April 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Striking Back at the Islamic State's Foreign Fighter Pipeline

    Islamic State training camps are the breeding grounds of tomorrow's Brussels or Paris attacks, and their consistent penchant for training foreigners suggests that military and security officials need to get serious about how to deal with returnees from Iraq and Syria.

    May 31, 2016

  • A police line separates people attending the Freedom of Speech Rally Round II from counter demonstrators outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona, May 29, 2015

    Commentary

    Anti-Muslim Demonstrations Don't Make Us Safer

    Anti-Muslim demonstrations complicate efforts to combat terrorism. They also exaggerate the threat, perpetuate overblown fears, and punish innocents who may be on America's side.

    May 12, 2016

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, gives Chinese Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, a tour of his office at the Pentagon, June 11, 2015

    Commentary

    Book Review: 'The Improbable War'

    In The Improbable War: China, the United States, and the Logic of Great Power Conflict, Christopher Coker explores historical analogies and strategic narratives. The intellectual journey is pleasant and engaging but lacks a significant final destination.

    May 11, 2016

  • Icebreaker Yamal during removal of manned drifting station North Pole-36, August 2009

    Commentary

    Friends if We Must: Russia and China in the Arctic

    Russia's rebalancing toward China is particularly important in the Arctic, a region in which Russia has great ambitions, but also struggles with major vulnerabilities. Russia needs China as an investor, as a technological partner, and as a key consumer of energy to support its flagging, energy-dependent economy.

    May 6, 2016

  • U.S. soldiers maneuver using concealment at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California

    Commentary

    Presence vs. Warfighting: A Looming Dilemma in Defense Planning

    Presence involves global military deployments to counter potential aggressors, reassure allies, underwrite extended deterrence, build partner capacity, and more. It is now as important, in terms of its stabilizing and deterrent effect, as warfighting capabilities. Yet U.S. force posture falls short.

    Apr 26, 2016

  • Russian paratroopers wait to board a helicopter during a military exercise outside the southern city of Stavropol, Russia, October 27, 2015

    Commentary

    Outnumbered, Outranged, and Outgunned: How Russia Defeats NATO

    Today NATO is outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned by Russia in Europe and beset by a number of compounding factors that make the situation worse. But it is possible to begin restoring a more robust deterrent posture and to do so at a price tag that appears affordable.

    Apr 21, 2016

  • Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee

    Commentary

    Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Is a National Security Threat

    National security and counterterrorism experts agree that rhetoric that paints all Muslims as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers has a high chance of breeding future terrorists. And evidence suggests that such language can hamper U.S. efforts to stop terrorists before they strike and to capture them after attacks.

    Apr 13, 2016

  • Transportation soldiers and civilian harbormasters move cargo containers onto awaiting vessels in a training exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis

    Commentary

    Ten Years After the Safe Port Act, Are America's Ports Secure?

    The economic importance and visibility of America's ports make them attractive terrorism targets. Port security has improved, but many of the threats that motivated the Safe Ports Act in 2006 remain, and new dangers have emerged, including cyber threats.

    Apr 6, 2016

  • U.S. sailors assigned to Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command monitor, analyze, detect, and respond to unauthorized activity within U.S. Navy information systems and networks

    Commentary

    The Online Fight Against ISIS

    To prevail against ISIS in cyberspace, the United States and its cyber soldiers will have to be capable of reacting quickly, while being guided by an overarching strategy. Secretary of Defense Carter urged U.S. Cyber Command to intensify the fight against ISIS but it would also be wise to recruit civilian volunteers.

    Apr 1, 2016